The Church needs to change.  Big Style.  Something gobsmacking was said in response to recent comments about the Church of England’s practices . . . I haven’t seen any one wave a red flag or be similarly aghast – so, here goes ::

We (The Church of England) have recently been criticised for talking about the need for everyone to have the “living wage.”  The Bishops wrote a pastoral letter, “Who is my neighbour?” – to the Church apparently, not to the country or politicians according to Bishop Nick Baines  – and the Church of England was subsequently criticised for not managing to have its house in order.  That is, the document encourages all employees to pay the living wage – but, there are people who are employed by the Church who do not receive the living wage.

That is fair enough – the criticism that is.

The Church cannot argue that it should be allowed to comment on all things in society that impact people and then get the hump when what is written is picked over . . . that is what everyone else who is involved in politics has to put up with – and whilst yes, it was written as a pastoral letter – it is disingenuous to say it is only for parishioners . . . if that had been the case, the Bishops could have sent it via Archdeacons to every parish for it to be available to congregations via their local church.  I have been at Church, it hasn’t been mentioned – so which Church of England members was it written for?  If the Bishops lob it up on the main media outlet via the Church of England website then it is clearly meant for anyone and everyone!

Amidst the criticism and then the embarrassment and then the explanations about why the Church, in some instances wasn’t paying the living wage, this was said,

Each of our 12,000 parishes, dioceses and cathedrals is a separate legal entity with trustees and has to act in the light of its own circumstances. As charities churches require time to increase giving levels prior to ensuring delivery of the living wage.

Statement on the Church of England website

Similarly, in response to media queries and interviews, the Archbishop has said,

Every cathedral, every diocese, every parish in this country is an independent charity, with its own trustees that has to make its own decisions.

Archbishop of Canterbury’s website

Yes, these statements are true.

So what is my issue then, what have I found so gobsmacking?

These statements are true when we talk about people (that is people who, in some instances might be lay workers, some who might be contracted staff, some who might be cleaners or maybe office assistants in a busy parish – it might even be that some of these are youth and children’s workers) – but they are not true when we talk about property.

The Church of England has requirements when it comes to property – oh, and these requirements are a mixture of canon law, ecclesiastical law, heritage law . . . The Church of England has in place “approved systems of control” which Parliament recognises.  Big stuff in place for buildings then.

In fact, from the website “Building Conservation” you can read the following under the Ecclesiastical Law and the Church of England section,

Under the provisions of the Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991, all works, alterations and additions to parish churches, their churchyards and contents require faculty approval.[2] This legal requirement applies to consecrated buildings and land and other churches licensed for public worship since 1 March 1993.

Faculty approval comes through what is known as a DAC, which is a body organised within each Diocese (either with their own Diocesan team or contracted out, or even Diocese’ working together) – but each Diocese has to abide by the various ecclesiastical laws.

This is great.  It is necessary.

We have a vast amount of property with a myriad of buildings needing care and provision for their :  variety of ages, decrepitude, usefulness, geographical challenges, essential local features and their need as places to build and enhance community.

So, a simple question really – if we CAN (and do) have all this in place for property – why not for people?  There is a “Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure”, why isn’t there a “Care of People who are employed by the Church of England Measure.”?

It just isn’t right to imply with statements that suggest everyone has autonomy within their own parishes . . . . clearly on employing people they do (but shouldn’t)!  But not in regard to buildings, not in regard to doing whatever they like when it comes to filling posts with “legal” obligations – such as  – Church Wardens (again, some of these responsibilities are linked to property, fabric of the church etc) who have to aim to be present at Archdeacon’s Visitations and “take their charge”, with a legal person present . . .

There have been attempts to bring change – but, we are woefully short of protecting and providing for people with anything like the care and attention (and money) we appear to be lavishing on our property.

It is not enough, valuable though it has been, to have statements of good intent linked with recommendations.  So, back in 2012 there was a private members motion which was almost unanimously agreed by Synod, but – no legal wait or obligation attached.  It is good, really good – it just doesn’t do for people what the Church has done for its property – here is the final statement from the motion,

This motion respects the autonomy of dioceses, parishes, church schools and associated charities to handle their resources. So this is not the mandatory guidance other churches have adopted. But as a church we have a duty of care to our own staff to accord them the dignity that God gives us all. As such, the people who care for our elderly, our children, our churches, and our offices should be paid a Living Wage rather than poverty wages.

So, no – it’s not mandatory guidance (mandatory and guidance don’t really go together, it is either mandatory or it is guidance).

When will the Church, nationally – not in some devolved “nothing to do with us what local church institutions do” make the changes required to protect, value and cherish the people employed from full time ministry staff to part time cleaners.

It is not that we can’t.  It is that we haven’t.  If the “laws” that govern the Church of England don’t allow it . . . then lets change them.